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The French have a long history in North America that is today most felt in Quebec and New Brunswick in Canada, and New Orleans in Louisiana. Their presence in northern North America was established before the first permanent English presence on the continent. With their arrival in North America in 1604, a French presence was established that continues to this day.

Saint Croix is a great excursion to visit for history-buffs while visiting Acadia National Park this fall. It is a site on the border with Canada, with the Canadians having the Port-Royal National Historic Site nearby. The other place in the United States one can experience French influence is in Louisiana and with the famous Cajun food there.

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Saint Croix Island - The First Site Of French Presence In North America

Saint Croix is a small island in northern Maine just over the border with Canada. Saint Croix Island is not to be confused with Saint Croix of the U.S. Virgin Islands (it is the largest of the American Virgin Islands).

  • Location: Northern Maine, Near Canada

The French presence in North America is best known for the former French colonies of New France and Acadia (today's Quebec, Canadian Maritimes, and parts of the New England area) as well as New Orleans on the other end of the continent. These French colonies were at the center of Anglo-French rivalry for who would control North America.

  • Founded: 1604
  • Endured: 1604-1605

For much of colonial history, Maine and the surrounding area were a contested area between the British colonies to the south and the French colonies to the north.

Related: You Can Visit France, And It's Only 4 Hours Away

French Settlement And Abandonment

It all started in 1604 when Pierre Dugua, Sieur de Mons, accompanied by Samuel Champlain and 77 other men, established a settlement on St. Croix Island. This settlement preceded the English settlements of Jamestown (founded in 1607) and Plymouth (1620). They called the territory La Cadie or l'Acadie, and it was the first French attempt to have a year-round colony.

The winter of 1604-1605 was harsh indeed. In fact, 35 of the 79 men died. During the winter, they were iced in and froze without a way of getting to fresh water and game. In the spring, native people traded game for bread, and the survivor's health improved.

It was from St. Croix Island that Samuel Champlain explored and charted the coast of North America from the Bay of Fundy in Canada to around Cape Cod. With his work, the settlement was able to relocate to a more favorable location.

The colony didn't last long at all. The following year in 1605, the settlement moved to a more favorable location in what is today Canada's Nova Scotia.

Related: The Vikings Landed In This Newfoundland Destination Exactly 1,000 Years Ago (And You Can Visit)

Planning A Visit To The Saint Croix Island International Historic Site

The easiest way to get to Saint Croix Island International Historic Site is by one's own car. It is located just 8 miles south of Calais in Maine on US Route 1.

The visitor center is located inside the ranger station and is open from Thursday through Monday to and including October 10. The park is open for as long as the sun is up all through the year. During the off-season, services in the park are limited.

The historic site features sculpture-laden walking trails with plenty of displays and bronze statues along the interpretive trail (these are covered during the winter to prevent damage).

  • Visitor Center Hours: 9.00 am to 5.00 pm Seasonally
  • Grounds Hours: Sunrise to Sunset 7 Days A Way
  • Entry Fee: Free
  • The International Historic Site is managed by the National Park Service.

    Saint Croix Island International Historic Site - Canada

    Over the border in Canada's New Brunswick is the Canadian counterpart to the American part commemorating the arrival of the French to North America.
    • Location: Route 127 at Bayside, New Brunswick
    • Admission: $4.25 CAD ($3.00)
    Opening Hours:
    • Visitor Center: 9.00 am to 5.00 pm Daily May 20 to October 9, 2022
    • Grounds: Open Year Round
    The Canadian park offers a walking trail with exhibits that discusses the French settlement at the site over 400 years ago. The Canadian Port-Royal National Historic Site features a reconstruction of the Habitation, an enclosed wooden compound. Costumed interpreters await visitors to help them understand the challenges faced by the French as they carved out a new settlement.